Tag Archives: money

Weight and Switch…………

Put your seatbelt on, I am about to turn everything you know about shopping upside down. No, really, I am. 😉

First, we have to remind ourselves why Costco and Sams and BJs and the like are successful. Because the more you buy, the cheaper it is. Right? Bigger is better. Correct?

Apparently not.

I should start by saying that I have not done price comparisons at the warehouse stores. That would be harder because they do not generally give you the price per unit. Well to be fair, I have never paid attention to the price per unit at the warehouse stores – mainly because generally there is only one size of each product/brand available. Super-sized. So it’s hard to compare when the stores don’t break down the math for you or give you options.

But recently I was at a store and I started looking at the per unit prices. Hmmmm. I went to pick up the larger bag of nuts because I just knew the price would be cheaper per ounce. But I didn’t really need such a large bag of nuts. Now we have a quandary. Hmmmm again.

Should I buy the larger bag and initially save money but then end up throwing some of the nuts out thus really wasting money.

I compared the per unit price and was shocked to see the smaller bag was actually less expensive per ounce. Say what?

The price for chopped pecans in the 8oz bag was 48 cents (well really 49 cents if you round up that ridiculous decimal .5).

And then, what to my wondering eyes should appear?

The price of the 10 oz bag is 59 cents per ounce. Huh?

Not being a math major, I double checked my numbers – and I am pretty sure that the larger bag is nearly 10 cents per ounce more expensive than the smaller bag. Boo. You can see it right there – the price of the 10 oz bag is $5.92 – the price of the 8 oz bag is $3.88. That is over a $2 difference for just 2 additional ounces – of chopped nuts, none the less. Those are the pieces that they probably just pick up at the end of the shift from the broken whole nuts. The leftovers. Yep, it’s nuts.

And then I found this.

This 24 oz bottle of Ranch dressing is $3.49. (And notice this store – cough – Target – cough – does not break down the price per ounce. Suspect.)

And so is this 20 oz bottle. Four ounces less but the same price. Really?

And then I realized why. This smaller (same priced) bottle is upside down. Clever, no?

But, even though I am not a scientist, I am fairly certain that if you employ gravity, you can get the same effect – and more dressing – for the same price. Hmmm.

No smoke and mirrors, no magic tricks – just a simple flick of the wrist can save you some dinero. Throw in a coupon and you might actually save enough money for that vacation.

So, pay attention savvy shoppers of the world. Not all is as it seems. 😎

What does it all mean……………….

Yesterday, I wrote about a man taking my shopping cart in the parking lot for me. You can read about it here.

I have been thinking about why that had such an impact on me and this is what I came up with. I think I will ramble a little – so please stick with this one – I promise there is a point at the end.

Living in India was an absolutely amazing experience that took me way out of my comfort zone. It jumbled up my routines and took me away from my favorite people. Living there gave me opportunities I would never, ever have here and it made me question a lot of what I thought I knew to be true.

I mostly think of myself as a kind and even generous person. It’s true that I can be cranky and selfish just like anyone else but I truly do enjoy giving other people a reason to smile and (mostly) don’t mind helping out.

But here comes India full force – where people really need – and not just a hug or a dinner brought over or a carpool for their over-scheduled kid or someone to take their shopping cart in the parking lot – they need food and water and a way out of horrible, horrible situations. And please know that I understand people in America need too – I know that – and I understand that the needs in America can be very real and can be overwhelming too. People are sick and people are hungry and people are hurting. I get that. But not in the same magnitude as in India – not so many people all at once and not so desperately and not without options. Right now, I live in a bubble – a green, lush, over-fed bubble with people who do not hesitate to help each other out. We are getting by just fine. Sure we endure struggles – but it is really not the  same.

I will show you what I mean – this man is taking a bath outside in a busy market area. The water is not clean and he is in public and I am taking his picture.

The streets are dirty and there is human and animal waste all over the place. That means that you have very good chances of getting pretty sick at some point. Especially if you do not have a nutritious diet and clean drinking water. And this is the road outside the entrance to the neighborhood we lived in – an upscale area. This is not a slum.

It is not only not uncommon – it is actually quite common – to see children unattended on the streets.

We have been having some pretty significant storms in our area and many people have been without electricity for several days. News reporters were interviewing several people affected by the outages and one councilman said, “people here feel like they are living in a third world country.” Dear heavens. Really? I understand he was going for the dramatic effect – but please.

Again, I appreciate that the people who lost power probably lost the food in their fridge and were hot as heck in their houses and were certainly inconvenienced. It probably is a hardship for some of them to replace their food. And of course, the elderly and young children and anyone who is sick could be in real danger. But it is temporary. And it will be fixed. Welcome to America baby where there are churches and libraries and friends houses to go to. There are options. The temporary pain of a power outage is certainly not like living in a third world country. I promise you, it is not.

I miss that about India – that the people of India don’t let bumps in the road slow them down. And I think I learned to calm down a little bit myself. I learned that if it will end up as a funny story one day, you can get through it. That the Indian people as a whole don’t take so much for granted. I would like to believe that clean water is a right and not a privilege but that is just not a reality – and electricity – well, that is icing on the cake. It really, really is.

Anyway, back to why I appreciated the man taking my cart.

Like I said, I used to think I was fairly generous and kind. India really made me question if that is true. I volunteered, sure – but I never fully committed to any one group. I gave myself a pass because I was still pretty involved in my kids classrooms which took up some time – and moving to India was a huge adjustment for me so I gave myself time to settle in before raising my hand too much – but you know what that sounds like – the excuses that they are. I know I contributed in many ways to help out people, but frankly it wasn’t enough. I truly could have done more. And why did I let myself get too overwhelmed to dive fully in. Because I knew I would eventually get to escape and move home to the land of temporary problems.

The hardest thing to accept about my time in India is how many times I turned my head away from a young child knocking at my window. If I remembered to bring crackers or cookies I would share those every time. But honestly putting food in the car wasn’t top on the list in my routine of getting out the door. I tried to remember – but I could have done better about it – and I should have. I regret that I simply did not do better.

Begging in India is a tricky thing. And helping beggars is even trickier.

Most people will tell you absolutely not to give to anyone begging for several reasons. Any money you give them usually goes to some sort of ring leader (read gang leader), if you give to one person you could end up with a flock of people around you and the mob mentality in India is not safe, giving to beggars encourages begging, it’s illegal, if you teach a man to fish, blah blah blah.

And it did happen to me more than once that I gave to one person and more people surrounded me. It was certainly uncomfortable. I even saw a woman have her change purse stolen. It was snatched right out of her hands. She was trying to give every child in front of her some change and one child said, “uh-uh lady – that is going to be all mine.” And we said, “see why you don’t do that?” And she said, “what difference does it make if he has all my change, I really don’t need it. It’s just my change.” And that was the right attitude. But it’s hard to get there.

When you see a small child knocking on your window, you let all these reminders run through your head. Why it is not a good idea to encourage begging – there is real danger in it – but how do you end it. You know that you cannot – it is much bigger than one person. And when the car, thankfully and finally, pulls away, you are still left with a pit the size of Texas in your stomach.

And then, when you have to explain all of this to your own children -augh.

The one thing my children never asked me was why they got to ride in an air conditioned car with a driver while so many children barely had enough to eat. They understood so much about our experience there and I am very proud of the way they took so much of the whole experience in and made it a part of who they are. But this is the one question that never escaped me. Why them and not me? I counted a lot of blessings in India – but that didn’t do the kid knocking at my door a whole lot of good.

And then you get back to your little oasis called home and you close the door and you want to shut it all out. In India it is particularly important to have a “home”. With familiar things and pictures of family that you miss and just some good old macaroni and cheese. But you cannot get away from the need that others experience.

At first, I would even say I was even proud of how we treated our staff who worked in our house. Pride goeth before a fall, no doubt. We paid more than most people, we gave lots of time off, we gave frequent bonuses, we gave them the things we did not “need”, we didn’t ask them to do things we would not do ourselves, we shook our heads at those who haggled too tightly over what was a reasonable salary to hold on to a few more pennies, blah blah blah.

But it was never enough. Our cleaner wanted help with tuition for his son and housing. Our cook and his wife just took what they wanted – no matter how much we gave, they always took more, and our driver started off his first day by telling me he had made a bad investment and lost all of his savings and tuition was due for his kids school. How do you balance that? When is enough enough? What is enough? What is not enough.

I know we made their lives easier – or at least we tried to. I feel good that we were reasonable enough to work for. But the problem for staff that works with expat families is that eventually those families leave and nothing is permanent. We have been paying our housekeeper for the past few months and we haven’t been living there. We have told him it is time to get another job and I did a lot to put him in touch with the right people. But he doesn’t seem to believe it. Eventually we are going to stop paying him but, but , but…………

So, when the guy in the parking smiled because I had done something nice – even though it was really insignificant – it made me smile. I said in my original post that being so happy about the whole event was over-reacting. And that is true. The world is not going to change because someone put away someone’s shopping cart – but maybe if we all are a little nicer to each other we will at least make it through the days a little easier. Especially in a country where most people don’t need much – maybe we all need kindness. Maybe that is the best start of all.

Unfortunately, today, I am right back where I was before. I want to be really helpful to people who really need it. Hopefully I will figure out a way to do that.

Beijing – Olympic Park and Panda Bears………

While we were in Beijing, we wanted to see Olympic Park. This was an interesting thing to accomplish.

I don’t know if all tours are run like this in China or if we just got some bad tour mojo….. but …. yikes. Our travel agent planned an itinerary for our day and a half in Beijing. We asked to go to the Great Wall – the section that you walk up and luge down. That did not happen. We went to the wall and walked up but we also had to walk down. That was a big bummer!

He also coordinated visits for us to see the Summer Palace and Ming’s Tomb. I ask you – why would we go to stuffy ole Ming’s tomb when we could see where Michael Phelps made history? Duh? And why would we go to the Summer Palace when we could see the Panda bears. I mean, really. Honestly, if we would have had more time, we would have so gone to Ming’s Tomb and the Summer Palace but time was short and we were traveling with three younguns who love to swim – so priorities, right?

When we got on the tour mobile, we asked to make some changes to our original schedule. OOOOOOOppppps. Apparently that is not acceptable – well, it can be acceptable if you are willing to pay more. Huh? We wanted to change two sites for two other sites. In America, we call that a “no-brainer” – in China it is apparently called an “increase in fees”. Got it.

We were also told that we were going to be charged more money because we were not going shopping. You read that right – n.o.t. going shopping. Huh? We did not ask to go shopping. And, shopping was not on our original schedule. But, now we were going to pay to not shop. Hmmmmmm.

Oh, and our tour guide was happy to take us by an ATM machine so we could pay in cash. Yeah, how do you think that worked out for her?

So, very long, very frustrating story short – we made the changes and only had to pay extra for the zoo fees. Now, that makes more sense.  And hubby had sense enough to suggest insist that our travel agent in Delhi be billed by our guide’s travel agency directly in Beijing – no cash transactions, thank you very much. So nice of you to offer though. tee hee. (Now you know I did not just marry hubby for his good looks.)

We quickly put it all behind us and walked in awe through Olympic Park. It is a pretty cool place. Most of the signage in China is in, well, Chinese – so it was fun to see this sign that we could actually read.

The bird’s nest was huge and fabulous…

And then, of course, the water cube. Unfortunately it was not open – but we used our imagination. 😉 I could easily imagine Bear, Flower, and Angel diving off the same block that Michael Phelps used. Can’t you?

And the fun mascots…

And how can you go to Olympic Park and not take a picture of the rings? You can’t, right?

There were some pretty awesome statues throughout the park. And if you stand at angle with the sun in your eyes and lean to the left and lift one foot up, this guy absolutely resembles Michael Phelps.

Her, not so much…

Not too sure what this symbolizes – but it looked cool enough…

Maybe he was trying to envision the swimming statue as Michael Phelps, too? What? He could be. Or, maybe, it’s just hard to hold a sailboat with no arms.

The sign wasn’t much help either…

Sure, it’s nice information to know, but it didn’t so much help on the interpretation side of things.

Travel in China is different than what we have experienced in the rest of Asia. Truly, not many of the people we encountered spoke English. This lady and her sister were so kind to help hubby negotiate with a vendor for a better price on the stuffed mascots. If you plan to visit China, learn from our mistakes, you’ll want to know this about shopping with vendors in Beijing (and perhaps all of China). It is wise to have money in smaller denominations. Otherwise the vendors are likely to give you counterfeit bills as change. Wanna know how we know that? Go ahead. Take a guess.

We tried to buy her sister a set of mascots too but the only thanks she wanted was a picture with our family.

Next, we headed over to the zoo. Fun Fun. We have seen a panda or two at the zoo in Washington, DC, but the Beijing zoo has at least a dozen of them. And here was another sign we could read.

And these guys were fabuloso!


The pandas also had this wonderful playground.

But this guy was just too tired to play. So cute!

Anybear, we did have a wonderful afternoon and hope to go back some time and see more of the historical stuff.

Follow-up………

Not too long ago, I wrote a post that generated quite the discussion on credit and credit cards in India. As a followup to that, I thought you might find this positive article interesting. It came from one of the Outreach members of the American Women’s Association in Delhi. (You’ll notice the difference in writing in India – in the U.S., the word scheme would immediately hint at a negative program – but this is a positive article.)

Launch of Credit Scheme for Slum Dwellers

Asha made history on Tuesday 28th April by launching a loan scheme for the slum dwellers of India in collaboration with The Ministry of Finance, Govt of India and 9 national banks. The Chief Guest at the function was Mr. Arun Ramanathan, Secretary (Banking), Ministry of Finance, Govt of India, the senior most civil servant in the Banking Division of the Govt of India. The Guests of Honour were Dr KC Chakrabarty, Chairman and Managing Director, Punjab National Bank, and Mr. Gautam Kanjilal, Chief General Manager of State Bank of India, the national heads of the two largest banks in the country.

Dr Kiran Martin, Founder & Director of Asha, delivers the welcome address

Also present were the Chiefs of the other 7 national banks, the New Zealand High Commissioner to India, Mr. Rupert Holborow, Deputy British High Commissioner Mr. Creon Butler, Irish Deputy Head of Mission Pat Bourne, diplomats, dignitaries and over 300 slum dwellers from all over the city.

Loans were given to slum dwellers from all over Delhi for a diverse range of purposes, including the opening and expansion of shops and businesses, purchase of vehicles and construction or improvement of homes. 58% of the borrowers were females and 42% were males. The cheques were distributed to the borrowers on stage by the Chief Guest and the Guests of Honour, in the presence of Asha’s Founder and Director Dr. Kiran Martin and other Asha trustees.

Chief Guest Mr Arun Ramanathan, Secretary (Banking Division), Ministry of Finance, Govt. of India hands out loan cheques to slum dwellers

Dr Martin, the initiator as well as the driving force behind this scheme, remarked in her speech that, when properly implemented, the scheme can greatly increase the country’s GDP through creation of national wealth, and said that “by becoming a force for liberation and transformation, we will be able to change the social and economic landscape of our country”.

This is for the very first time in the history of our country that slum dwellers have been able to directly access formal banking services, a process known as financial inclusion. They have so far always been financially excluded, and have been relying on loan sharks and other exploitative arrangements for their financial needs. This scheme enables slum dwellers to open zero balance bank accounts and receive loans at a very low rate of interest with no collateral required. The application procedures have been made very simple and the loan amount can be as low as US$100 or as high as US$5000, depending on the profile and the repayment capacity of the borrower. The repayment period is between 2 and 5 years, but there are no penalties for early repayment.

Slum dwellers and borrowers from all over the city attend the function

The pilot scheme implemented by Asha and these banks in 2008 created a very substantial enhancement in family incomes and standard of living, and a stunning repayment rate of 99%, proving to all that slum dwellers were indeed bankable. The phenomenal success of the pilot resulted in the Ministry of Finance and the national banks taking a policy decision to implement this scheme all over Delhi and then India.

The major difference between this revolutionary scheme and the traditional self help groups is that in this scheme, each slum dweller has a direct relationship with the bank, and can access the same banking services as any other Indian citizen. The interest rate on loans is much lower (9%) than that paid by members of self-help groups (18-22%), because of the high administrative costs of running the self-help groups and the involvement of intermediaries. Also, most importantly, the loans given to members of self-help groups are very small, usually not more than US$300. This is often insufficient to make a substantial difference to the living standards of a slum family.

Slum dwellers are establishing their creditworthiness in the market, are able to participate in formal economic activity, and are joining the mainstream of society. They will experience not just a cosmetic effect, but a very real improvement in their standard of living, as has already been demonstrated by the 2008 pilot scheme. They can now hold the hope of leading a life of dignity just like other citizens of our country.

Banks are making profits based on large volumes, through funds in the current accounts of slum dwellers, giving loans and receiving prompt repayments, and providing other banking services such as remittances.

It’s in the cards………

When I was in college, I went to a fortune teller. Okay, it was in a bar and I was not exactly “un”intoxicated. Not so much a good mix. Lesson learned – go to fortune teller completely sober. And maybe pick one that isn’t seated in the back of a bar. In the dark corner.

She told me that someone I cared about with dark hair who was involved in finance was going to die. What? That simply can not be.

My dad is an accountant – my then fiance (now number one hubby) was an accounting major – they both have dark hair. I had had a little bit a lot too much to drink and I momentarily forgot that everyone is going to die – at some point. So, I will take this opportunity to apologize to my friends who were with me that night. I cried for the remainder of the night. Yeah, I am sure that was a lot of fun.

Note to number one hubby – if you ever think I don’t care about you – please remember that I cried all night when I heard that you were going to die – at some point. 😎

Many years later, when my husband won a trip to Jamaica, I went to another fortune teller. She was a little more accurate. She told me that she knew I had had a miscarriage. She told me about someone in my life – she couldn’t pull out the name – maybe it was Georgia – yeah, my mom lives in Georgia.

I had not had too much anything to drink. I do realize that she spoke mostly in generalizations – but some things were dead on.

So, now I am intrigued by all this mystical stuff. I don’t really want predictions – they might drive me mad – but I am curious about the now and when. So, when I went to a craft show a few days ago and there was a tarot card reader there – I sat down. Five hundred rupees, please. You got it.

She also spoke somewhat in generalizations – but some of it was surprising.

She said that I am still mourning a loss and cannot completely focus on what I have gained. She said my glass is half empty (rather than half-full). This surprised me. I am normally a glass half-full person. Actually I am more of a “who cares” whether it’s full or empty – it is what it is – I am lucky there is a glass. But coming to India was a sudden change and not one I was looking for. I think I am doing a pretty good job of embracing this adventure – and on many, many levels, enjoying it. But, dang it, I miss home. I have not put both feet down yet.

She went on to say that there is a big opportunity waiting for me but I need to be more open to it. And that I need to not be so introspective. That way I will be able to see it when it comes. She even went so far as to say that I will get published and it will be big. So, remember, you knew me when. She also said there is a big celebration in my near future. A wedding or a new house – it’s probably not going to be one of those – but bring on the celebration.

Mrs. Tarot also said that I need to be careful about the money side of things in this new adventure. Okay. I can do that. If there is money involved, I can pay attention to it.

Apparently great things are in store for me. Isn’t that exciting? 😎

Domestic Dispute…….

When I was in college, I was in a sorority and we would have roundtable discussions – where we were free to voice our opinions and let others know what was bothering us. But in the spirit of sisterhood, we were not allowed to specifically mention another sister’s name. So we would start our discussion with “sister x” did this or “sister x” should really think about this. Well let me tell you about “cook x”.

Anyone who has lived in India for at least 5 minutes has a domestic staff story to tell – so the fact that it has taken us 7 weeks to earn our story to share is probably pretty good.

Number One Hubby hired our cook the week before the kids and I got here. He speaks good English, cooks American food, irons clothes well, and was supposed to have making bread as his specialty. He agreed to cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And he promised to make yummy homemade bread. (The way to our family’s heart is with with yummy homemade bread.)

Enter a family of five.

First day:
Oh boss, I cannot cook, clean, and do laundry for a family of five. And, I need a raise. Yes, on his first day.

So, we continued with Ravi who was cleaning just for hubby. He comes in for 4 hours a day and is thorough and unassuming and very kind. So, that’s okay. We like him and not having to let him go was okay with us. Now cook does not have to clean.

We even gave the cook a raise. A 20% raise. We liked him too. (Just in case you are new at this whole staff thing – apparently, you start with someone on a temporary basis and a lower salary – then after a few weeks, if you plan to keep them, you give them a raise. We got to the whole raise thing a little early.)

So then he asks for us to include bus fare in his salary. This is really not a big deal because bus fare usually does not run more than $20 a month (and that is on the high end). So, bus fare it is. I think it might have been $10 for our cook.

We did not pack our kitchen up and bring it with us. We have just gotten things as we realized we need them. There has not been one thing he asked for that I did not get. Not one.

From what I can gather, domestic staff usually work about a 12 hour day in India. Our cook generally worked a 9-hour day and had most Saturdays off completely – or if he worked, he just worked a few hours.

Then our cook’s wife started a new job and they were moving. So we gave our cook several days off of work to move and coordinate moving.

Along with the move came the need for a security deposit. I don’t know if you just heard the collective gasp rolling across Delhi – but the number  one rule in having domestic staff is to NEVER lend them money.

We lent him money. I know, I know!

He was to pay it back over 5 months. Honestly, I will not regret this decision. We immediately agreed that it was the right thing to do. It was not so much money that it was life changing to us – but it was for our cook – and it helped him get a roof over his head. So, we did it – and, yes, we would most likely do it again.

Our cook was not happy with our smaller washing machine – so we have ordered a larger one. Our cook was not happy with our fridge – so we got a larger one.

Finally, our cook’s new digs did not have drinking water – so every night he would take lots of water home with him. We were happy to let him do that.

And quite possibly the straw the broke the camel’s back – the cook never made the promised bread for hubby. That was not a good idea. A fresh, warm loaf of homemade bread forgives a multitude of sins.

So, what I am saying is – he had it pretty good.

Or at least we thought so. Apparently he did not agree. He wanted a uniform allowance. Which is not uncommon – but we felt that we had given quite a bit already. (Again, if you are new to having staff – what I have found out is that it is normal to give domestic staff a clothing allowance for summer and fall. And a bonus at Diwali. But that the clothing allowance generally comes after they have been with you for 6 months or so.)

Hubby said no. Here is a note to staff – perhaps it is prudent to begin paying back the one month’s salary before you ask for a uniform allowance. Just think about it – ‘kay? Especially if you are new to the family.

Then he asked hubby again. The hubby said no – again.

Hubby is not impressed with having to say no again.

Our cook has been working for us for about 5 weeks at this point.

Then our cook asks me. Here is a second note to staff. If my hubby says no to you twice – I am not going to say yes. I err on the side of hubby. Period.

I told him he had to talk to the boss about it – that was his department – I can tell him what we want for dinner – that is my department.

Hubby overheard him ask me. Note to staff number 3 – it is not wise to try to win the wife over in earshot of the hubby. Not very wise at all.

So hubby comes into the kitchen and gives me a way out of the conversation. Thank you hubby.

But hubby is not done with the conversation.

Hubby outlines all of the things we have done. Cook tells hubby that hubby just does not care and that the wife is more understanding. Do I need to insert the fourth note to staff here – I bet I don’t – I bet you know all by your lonesome just what it is.

Needless to say, after talking in circles with our cook, my hubby invited our cook to leave and walked him out the gate.

It turns out that our cook had been bad-mouthing us to our driver and Ravi. They both are happy that he is gone. We both felt bad about letting our cook go – until we heard this. Note to staff number 5 – do not bad mouth your boss to the other people who work for him. They will sell you out. Quickly.

So, while I will miss his pasta salad, I now have a domestic staff story. We have two leads on new staff people – and you know I will let you know how it goes!

Girlfriend’s Guide to Jaipur……………

I wrote a Girlfriend’s Guide to the Taj Mahal and you seemed to like it – so I will do the same for Jaipur. If you would just like to read about our trip, you will find day one here and day two here.

The Essentials:

You will want toilet paper, diaper wipes, Purell, comfortable walking shoes, and capri pants for your journeys. And Dramamine – plus an empty bowl for the car (that is just in case the Dramamine does not work and you are stuck in traffic). I stick by that. And I am going to add bottled water and many,  many recognizable snacks. You can buy soda pretty much anywhere – not always the diet variety – but a regular Coke won’t kill you every now and then. And caffeine is caffeine. To be fair, you can buy water just about anywhere too – but just be sure you hear that familiar click when YOU unscrew the bottle. And just say no to ice.

Peppermints or other hard candies are great to have in the car, too. Peppermints are especially good because they can sooth an upset tummy. That’s called a two-fer. When your children claim that, yes, in fact, they just might actually die from thirst unless they get a drink at this very moment – and you are not sure where the next European bathroom might be – you can give them a candy. Peace ensues and all will be right with the world of thirst. You’ll want to pace yourself – the European bathrooms are few and far between. Unless you have boys, then they can just go anywhere – yep, pretty much anywhere.

Eating out:

Think “you say tomato, I say tomahto” on the experience of eating out – pizza in the hotel restaurant may not be the pizza you (and your kids expect). There will a lot of things that are not recognizable. Which is really great if you have adventurous eaters – enter Bear, Flower, and Angel – quite possibly the most unadventurous eaters on the planet. They are still very confused as to why the McDonalds in India do not serve chicken nuggets – just sandwiches. Rome wasn’t built in a day – be thankful for the fries and move on.

We ordered Pizza Hut (yes real Pizza Hut) for dinner – I know you can shake your head in shame – go ahead, I’ll wait – but hungry children are not happy children. Happy children make traveling much more enjoyable. Sign me up for more enjoyable travels. Two large pizzas and four 7-ups cost about $12. They were delivered to the room and I got to stay in my pjs- priceless.

Buffets seem to be a good way for my family to experience eating out in unchartered waters. There are many options and some are recognizable. Sometimes you might pay $10 for your daughter to eat a plate of rice – but it is a plateful of rice she will recognize – and therefore, probably, eat. YEAH! With a buffet, you can at least see what will be on your plate before you order it. Brillant. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel and they had pancakes, fruit, made to order omelets (be careful here – green chilis can look like green peppers if they are sliced thin enough), toast, and some cereals. Of course, they had some things that were very different than what we are used to – steamed broccoli, green beans, baked beans, cooked tomatoes – but a lot of good choices. I had broccoli for breakfast for the first time in my life.

Change/Small Bills:

Whenever you travel in India, make sure you have small bills with you. Some of the people you will pay for things are not thrilled with coins – not that they won’t take them – they will – but better to see smiles than frowns. They seem to  prefer paper. For example, if you want to take a picture of someone, you might give them 10 rupees for their smile. It’s a nice gesture and doesn’t cost you much. I suggested to my dear sweet husband that perhaps we should ask the hotel for some smaller bills (the ATM machines we have visited give you 500 rupees at a time). He did not agree – but I won’t go there – suffice it to say that you will want some bills with 100, 50, 20, and 10 rupees on the face of them. Then everyone can smile.

Snake Charmer:

When he was done, we paid the snake charmer 20 rupees (see you do need smaller bills – sorry, I wasn’t going to go there). He asked for 200 rupees. Our guide laughed, number one hubby laughed, the man sitting on the bench watching it all transpire laughed. I reminded them all that the snake charmer had cobras – real live cobras. Walk away slowly and backwards. I personally think that if you choose snake charming as your profession, being alive at the end of the day is its own reward. But, who am I to say. We left him with 20 rupees and his life. We paid after the performance. That seems to be the way to go here – for the most part, pay when they are done. He did not send the snakes after us.

They do milk the snakes each day so that their poison is used up for the day. I still do not have a picture of myself charming the snake. I will save my charms for adventures that are not life threatening. But, yes, I did let my children do it – okay, logic does not always prevail here.

Elephant Ride:

570 rupees per elephant (about $11) to ride to the Amber Fort – for this you pay for the ride when you get on the elephant – but save the tip until the end of the ride. We were told that in the city of Jaipur we could ride an elephant for 50 rupees – away from the main tourist attractions – yes that is a big difference – but we chose to ride one to the Amber Fort. I would actually recommend riding the elephants to the fort. The route that cars take is a road that is narrow and small and harrowing. You will get to experience the narrow, harrowing road on the way down from the fort because you can only ride the elephants up to the fort. This will make perfect sense when you see how steep the ride down is – it would be hard to remain balanced on the elephants when they are walking down it.

Two people can fit on each elephant (three if two of the people are little people) and the driver will expect a tip. We gave him 100 rupees. He asked for his money before he let us off the elephant. I had it ready – but it might not be good to let it be visible to the driver before you are ready to get off the elephant. Our driver talked about money the whole way up. His English was hard for me to understand. I have know idea what I did or did not agree to. But he let us off the elephant without too much argument. You can take bananas with you and feed the elephant when your ride is over. Yes, I wish I had known that. When will my kids get another chance to feed an elephant? Prepare your children (and yourself) for the fact that the drivers will  hit the elephants hard – very hard – with sticks – big sticks. Many of the elephants have raw spots on their ears.

Restrooms:

First, use the restroom in your hotel before you leave the hotel. Don’t have high expectations for soft toilet paper.

But, there is a lovely restroom at the Amber fort – it costs 5 rupees per person. (Yes, you did the math correctly – that is about 10 cents). It is clean – very clean – and there is a European style toilet (that means you can sit on it or over it whichever you choose) and toilet paper and running water and even soap. Whoa Nellie. I might just move in here. It is the heaven of all things bathroom. It is the nicest bathroom I have seen in India. Pay the 10 cents – even if you don’t need to go – you’ll just want to visit. There is a girl who will give you a paper towel when you are done drying your hands. I gave her 10 rupees. I know – big spender – that was about 20 cents. Very generous I am.

This bathroom is so great you could wear a skirt or long pants here. Although I still would not recommend them for the rest of your journey. Capris really are the way for women to go.

Shopping After Sight-seeing:

Okay, I have figured something out – I might be a little slow on the uptake – but I have got it now. The guide that we paid to show us the city was well worth the 500 rupees per day that we paid him. But he must get commission to take us to certain shops. Souvenir shops. I do not want to bring home souvenirs to my friends and family – I want authentic Indian items that I can buy in the markets – not in an air conditioned store with wide aisles and 5,000 salesmen. Okay, maybe I am exaggerating – it might have only been 3,000 salesmen – but it was way too many.  These shops are honestly fine if you do not have a lot of time. There are a lot of different things, they are clean, you can and should bargain, and blah, blah, blah. But we had time. I wanted to really shop – in markets. I have not seen a lot of clothing items in these types of markets either – so if you are looking for clothing be very specific with your guide that you want clothing – if he says “textiles”, repeat yourself. Clothing. Textiles seems to mean carpets and linens.

I am rethinking my earlier statement that you should not buy from the vendors at the various sites. The motivation of the guide was not, I think, to keep us unbothered but to protect his commission. I saw lovely things for sale at the Amber fort – specifically puppets. There was a puppet store that I asked our guide to take us back to – he did not take us there – but to a tourist market. We were so angry that we let him go for the day.

Peddlers at the Amber Fort

The peddlers we saw at the Amber Fort were the most “in your face” we have seen. As I think back on the day, I do not remember going through a security check point – so maybe this is why. Anyone can enter the courtyard area without a ticket. But we just continued to say nay. Twelve or so times. And then they pretty much left us alone.

Pictures:

My children were asked many times if they would take a picture with someone. I always said no. It made my children uncomfortable – and me too. So, no it is. Our guide handled most of this for us. However, this does present quite a double standard. I think the Indian people are beautiful and want to take pictures of them. So call me a hypocrite. I am fine with that. If it is a poor person, I give them a little bit to thank them for their troubles.

Guides:

I have said this before and I will say it again – the guides speak English very well but is often heavily accented. So, it really does pay to do a little research before you go somewhere – then you will recognize names and places they are saying – this is very helpful! Our experience with guides was very different in Jaipur than it was in Agra. We were very happy with our guide in Agra – not so much with either guide in Jaipur. Although the first day was much better than the second. We are partly to blame for this. We did not do enough research about exactly what it was we wanted to see and we did not insist on seeing the one thing we really wanted to see – the Monkey Temple – we let ourselves get too easily talked out of it. Shame on us – lesson learned.

The guide each day was 500 rupees ($10). We tipped the guide the first day well – the second day, we did not tip so well. As I said earlier, it seems that the guides make their real money on the commission they get from the shops they take you to. So make it clear whether or not you want to shop in those stores and if not, consider giving the guide a little bit more of a tip – if you are happy with the service you received.

Temples:

We have not been to a temple yet – but we hope to do that soon. One thing I have learned about visiting temples is that women should always be prepared to cover their heads. It is also a good idea to carry a bag with you large enough to carry your shoes in. This is probably obvious to most – but just in case – photography might not be allowed either. If you are fortunate enough to be able to participate in any kind of ceremony at a temple, remember to receive items in your right hand with your left hand underneath your right.

Overall Jaipur is definitely worth a visit. It is a exquisite city with rich with history and culture. We will absolutely go back.